It was a calm August Sunday in 2007 like any other at the Museum Cherét Beaux Arts in Nice… until 7 masked men, armed with pistols and Chechen hand-grenades, burst through the door and ordered everyone to hit the ground. They knew what they were after, and four minutes later were speeding away with 4 masterworks worth 22 million euros: a Monet, a Sisley, and 2 Bruegels.
Flashback to 1990 when FBI special agent Bob K. Wittman was put on the case of another art heist from the Gardner Museum in Boston. After 20 years of dead ends and spectacular narrow misses, solving this heist had become his life’s work (he even wrote a book about it). In 2006, thanks to a tip, the trail lead him to the French Riviera, where he went undercover to infiltrate the crime network. Posing as a flashy high-flying drug dealer wanting to invest in stolen art and jewels, he staged a masterful fake diamond buy on ‘his’ yacht to win the ring’s confidence. The con worked beautifully and they took the bait, not realizing that yacht, drugs, diamonds and cash were all from crime seizures, and the buyer, seller, crew and ‘escort girls’ were all FBI agents. Soon the word spread along the Cote that a rich American was hot to buy stolen jewels and master artworks.
So, you see, Pierre, the mastermind of the Nice heist and known as ‘The Nicois’, heard the rumor and could not help himself faced with such temptation… and who can blame him?
A novel defense… or a defense straight out of a bad novel?
Nice-Matin: “Sans le FBI, je ne serais pas allé piller les musée Chéret” Tableaux volés au musée Chéret: la faute du FBI?
UPDATE: The judge didn’t buy it… 8 years behind bars for Pierre and 4 years each for the rest.